In the face of a year of increased violence and a seemingly endless supply of guns on the streets, the NYPD will be intensifying efforts against gangs responsible for the bloodshed, Commissioner Dermot Shea said Tuesday.
"You would be shocked how many guns are on the streets," Shea told reporters during an end-of-year briefing at police headquarters in Manhattan, a year in which homicides have risen 41% over 2019 and shootings climbed nearly 100% to levels not seen since the early days of the Bloomberg administration.
"We are going to put our resources against attacking people, not necessarily the guns, because it is sad, there is almost an endless supply of guns," Shea added.
Although officers made more gun arrests this year than in the past five years, such a strategy didn’t seem to be enough, Shea said. Gun arrests total 4,167 this year compared with 3,277 last year, a 27% increase, NYPD statistics show.
"We are making gun arrests at a breakneck pace and one could argue it is not having a significant impact on the level of violence," Shea said. "I am going to go after [those] who are the people pulling the trigger on the streets of New York City, that is a much more manageable number and controllable number."
To underscore the point, both Shea and Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison revealed that earlier in the week police charged 19 suspected members of a Brooklyn gang known as the 900 Gang. The gang is actually an umbrella for three related groups involved in 85 acts of violence, mainly in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and adjacent areas.
Harrison said the investigation started in late 2018 and was expected to end with arrests nine months ago. But it stalled when the criminal courts and grand juries were shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The charges involved everything from homicides to shootings, explained Harrison. Seventeen of the suspects were in custody Tuesday, one was seeking to turn himself in with an attorney while another might have gone out West, he added.
"Cases like this are going help us stop the violence," said Harrison, "We are grabbing the Alpha males of these gangs, the heads of the snakes, the ones that are carrying the guns and pulling the triggers."
But because of court and grand jury delays during the pandemic, the gang suspects committed seven acts of violence in 2020 before police were able to charge them, Harrison said.
Addressing the anti-police sentiment the NYPD confronted in the months after the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Shea believed the department was coming out of what he called a "dark period."
"I think better times are ahead, hopefully that is the view of many more than just me as we move into 2021," Shea said.
But Shea admitted that attrition from the ranks, while not as great as it was over the summer, was still running higher than in 2019. The force level dropped to about 34,200 in the fall, down from 36,000 earlier in 2020. Shea said a cut in the NYPD overtime budget drove some retirements. A new class of 900 recruits should hit the streets by the spring, officials have said.